By JOHN PESETSKI
Special to FOXSportsWisconsin.com
PHOENIX It's difficult to be critical of the year Aramis Ramirez had for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012. Instrumental in the Brewers late-season surge into playoff contention the soft-spoken slugger hit .300 with 27 home runs, a league-leading 50 doubles, and drove in another 105 runs. He also played Gold Glove caliber defense committing only seven errors while posting a league best .977 fielding percentage at third base.
Still, both Ramirez and the Brewers came in to Spring Training this year determined to get the Dominican Republic native off to a better start in 2013. Despite some adversity, a different approach and some help from the Major League Baseball schedule makers, Ramirez and the Brewers might get what they are looking for.
"I would have like, five MVPs in my house right now if I could ever get a season off to a good start," Ramirez said early in Spring Training. "Obviously what I'm doing is not working early. I don't know what it is. I can't even explain it. If I had an answer for it, I wouldn't let it happen. We're trying to fix it though."
Typically a slow starter, last April was particularly challenging. A career .285 hitter, Ramirez holds a .257 April average over his 15 Major League seasons. However, last April, his first with the Brewers, he hit only .205 with 2 home runs and ten runs batted as the Brewers posted and 11-11 record for the month.
Ramirez's efforts to get off to a better start this season started in the off-season.
"I worked hard over the off season to come in to camp in better shape. I'm older now and you have to do different things now than when I came up," said the 34-year old. "I came to camp two pounds heavier this year, but my body fat was way down. I'm in better shape. That helps."
Coming into camp, the Brewers planned to take a different approach to Ramirez' Spring Training work, including more at bats and game action early action during the Cactus League season. Unfortunately, Ramirez strained his knee in a play at second base on March 2 and missed nearly two weeks of action. He's trying to make up for lost time by playing as much as possible in the closing days of Spring Training.
"We were going to do some different things this Spring, but with the injury, I was off the field for two weeks. So, now I'm playing as much I can and trying to see as many pitches as I can. I'm healthy and I feel good. I hope I can get off to a better start."
As much as the Brewers would like to see the 6-foot-1 right-handed veteran get off to a better start in 2013, his teammates know that no matter what he does in April, Ramirez will deliver.
"Slow starts are just one of those things for some guys," said second baseman Rickie Weeks. "You may worry about a young guy, but for Aramis, he's proven what he can do. It's a long season and everybody here knows that even if he gets out slow, he's going to come around and do a lot for this team."
While Ramirez is only hitting .226 with one home run and six runs batted in in 12 games this Spring, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is encouraged by what he's seen so far.
"He's in better shape right now. I'm not saying he was in bad shape last year, but he's in better shape this year. He already looks better than he did last year. The ball is coming off his bat better. He's seeing the ball better and he's having better at bats. Those are good signs. I'm hoping that will continue on into the season."
Roenicke also thinks Ramirez could benefit starting the season in climate-controlled Miller Park and other warm weather venues. Outside of a six-game road trip to Chicago and St. Louis, the Brewers play the rest of April at either Miller Park or in California.
"I know sometimes weather plays a part in it," said Roenicke of Ramirez' early season struggles. "When he was with Chicago dealing with the wind and the cold, I really believe it has a lot to do with it. Some players like playing in cold weather. It doesn't bother them. Other players, it's miserable. Being indoors, I think, is a big advantage for Ramy. And hopefully when we go on the road for those two series, he won't have it too tough."
In the meantime, Ramirez plans to get as many at-bats as possible and focus on success rather than struggles in the final days leading up to Opening Day at Miller Park.
"I'm not thinking about the slow starts right now. I'm playing as much as I can and trying to get ready. I certainly don't want to get off to a slow start, but I don't get too worried though. Over the off-season and in Spring Training I'm doing everything I can. I know the production will come."